The OTHER Stars Of Bonanza

One of the great TV Westerns of the 60s, perhaps of all time, was Bonanza.  I remember it being a must-see at our house on Sunday evenings.  And my parents enjoyed it as much as me and my siblings.  I learned a lot over the years about the stars who played those larger-than-life Cartwright men, but it was only recently, when I stumbled across an article on the topic, that I learned about the other, less celebrated stars – namely the horses.  I thought I’d share some of what I learned with you all.

First of all, none of the actors owned their horses – at least not while the show was filming.  They weren’t owned by the studio either.  They were owned by Fat Jones Stables, an operation that had a long history – all the way back to 1912! –  of providing horses to movie and television productions.

Because Bonanza was the first TV Western to be filmed in color, the mounts for the Cartwright family were chosen with an eye to how they would stand out in this new medium.  But each actor also had considerable input into the selection of his horse.

Let’s take the horses in the order of their rider’s family position:

Ben Cartwright:  His horse was named Buck, logical since he was a Buckskin.  The horse was 12 years old at the start of the series, weighed in at about 1100 pounds and stood a little over 15 hands tall.   It was said that Lorne Greene did not care much for horses, but when the series ended its 14 year run, he purchased Buck from the stable because he was concerned with what might happen to the animal otherwise.  That same year, Lorne turned around and donated Buck to a therapeutic riding facility that worked with mentally and physically challenged children and youth.  Buck spent his remaining years there and by all accounts was a big hit.  Buck lived to the ripe old age of 45.

Adam Cartwright:  Adam’s horse in the show was named Scout.  But Scout was not the original horse selected for the role.  In fact the first two horses, Candy and Beauty, both proved to be fractious in front of the cameras and had to be sent back to the stables as not right for the part.  When Scout was brought in, he proved to be not only well behaved but a good match for actor Pernell Roberts.  Scout was a gelded 7/8 thoroughbred who weighed in at 1100 pounds.  Roberts rode Scout for three seasons.  Near the close of that third season, Scout and Dan Blocker’s horse  got mired in the mud during filming, causing an accident.  Whether related to the accident or not, within a month Scout was acting up, tossing his head around and generally refusing to behave during filming as he had before.  By the start of the fourth season, Scout had been sent back to the stables and replaced with a horse that was almost identical in appearance.  The only difference was that the new horse had four white socks as opposed to the three sported by the original Scout.

Hoss Cartwright:  I had trouble finding much information on Chub, the horse Dan Blocker rode.  Chub was a half quarter horse, half thoroughbred horse who was selected not only for his temperament but for his ability to carry a man of Dan Blocker’s imposing size.  Chub stood 15.3 hands tall and weighed a sturdy 1250 pounds.  The horse’s most distinctive feature was the crooked blaze down his face.   Chub remained with the series during its entire run and outlived Blocker.

Joe Cartwright:  Michael Landon selected a Paint named Tomahawk to be his mount on the show.  The horse’s ‘character name’ was Cochise.  Standing 15.3 hands tall and weighing in at 1150 pounds, it was second in size only to Hoss’s mount.  Tomahawk was with the show for more than five seasons.  During the sixth season tragedy struck in a truly terrible incident.  A demented intruder broke into the Fat Jones Stables and stabbed several of the horses, among them Tomahawk.  The vet was able to save some of the victims but several of the injured animals had to be euthanized, including Tomahawk.  Landon was both saddened and outraged by what happened and offered a sizable reward for the capture of the responsible party, but the perpetrator was never identified.  In subsequent episodes a number of Paints were used to play the role of Joe’s horse Cochise.


So there you have it – some trivia about the four horses who carried the Cartwrights.  Did any of this surprise you?  Do you have any particular memories of the show and did you have a favorite from among the animals?

Leann Harris – Equine Therapy

I want to thank Tracy for inviting me to blog.  My latest book, Second Chance Ranch, is about equine therapy and how it changed the lives of both the hero and heroine.  I read in our local paper a human interest story about an Iraqi veteran who lost his leg in a road side bomb and how equine therapy is used to help veterans.  The instant I read that article, it called to me.  I knew I had to do a story about it and thus was born my book.

I normally write suspense (12 books), but this time the story turned into a romance.  Well, I didn’t that stop me, so I started on my journey.  I read everything I could get my hands on concerning veterans and equine therapy. I ran across several articles in NARAH Strides about how horses are used to help people who’ve lost their limbs regain their balance and rebuild the muscles used in walking.  I discovered a new world of the benefits of horses and what wonders they work.  Children with physical problems can use this therapy, emotionally troubled youths benefit from the responsibility of caring for a horse.  I went out to my local equine therapy ranch and spent the day with them, seeing how the therapist works with smaller children.

I also went down to Shiner’s hospital and talked to the head of the prosthetics department.   We spent time going through the department and he explained how to fit an artificial limb and the process the patient goes through.

Now, I have the background, but who are my hero and heroine?  That’s the exciting part of writing.  Finding your hero and heroine and discovering who they are.  I am a westerner and any story I do is set in the mountain west—Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Texas and Louisiana (it sneaked in).  My hero, Zach, was raised on a ranch in New Mexico and rodeo all his life.  When he loses his right leg below the knee, he doesn’t know how to deal with his life.  And my heroine is an army medic, but also a horse person and ridden all of her life.

As I was researching this story, I talked to a friend who grew up in West Texas and always had horses.  She tells me of her mare who when she sees my friend trots across the pasture and follows my friend around like a big puppy.  Who knew?   When I got to know my horses, Prince Charming, a big black gelding, and Brownie, a little mare who the children ride, they were full blown characters.  I could say that Charming is a wonderful counselor and helped both my hero and heroine work out some thorny problems.  My characters blogged this last month and will probably continue to blog for probably another month.  Kind of the story behind the story.  It’s the characters view of what happened.  I’m tempted to do the horses’ view. I hope if you’re interested you visit my websites, and

I also just got good news.  Zach McClure has a brother and sister.  I’m going to get to do those stories, too.  Thanks for having me.

Readers, in honor of her visit, Leann is giving away one copy of SECOND CHANCE RANCH. Just join the conversation with Leann to be entered in the drawing–and be sure we have your email address with your comment.

Give Me a Mule!

I’ve long been an admirer of mules.  What they lack in glamour they make up in strength, endurance, brains and personality.  Maybe that’s why I like using them in my stories and often do.

A mule is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey (the offspring of a stallion and a female donkey is called a hinny, but we won’t go there today).  And yes, it’s true that mules can’t reproduce – something to do with having an uneven number of chromosomes.  You can only get a baby mule by crossbreeding the two different parents. 

A quality mule combines the size, strength and speed of a horse with a donkey’s patience, sure-footedness, endurance and survival skills.  In the old West, if you needed a heavy load hauled long distance over murderous terrain, you wouldn’t want horses.  You’d want mules, and you’d have to pay top dollar for them.  (Anybody remember the old Frankie Laine song about “Mule Train”?  If you do you’ll probably want to kill me for putting it back in your head.)

My main source for this post was a wonderful old children’s book, ALBUM OF HORSES by Marguerite Henry.  Here are some fun facts I learned about mules.

Mules are known for their stubbornness.  But muleteers call this quality wisdom.  If a mule’s load is too heavy, he’ll wait for you to lighten it.  If he’s put in enough hours he stages a strike.  If the water in a creek’s unfit to drink he won’t touch a drop.  If the weather’s hot he slows his pace.  If his pasture is hilly, he eats uphill so he won’t have to bend.  Unlike a horse, a mule never overeats or drinks icy water when he’s too hot.  If he doesn’t like the way things are going he simply takes a nap and refuses to budge.

Here’s something I didn’t know, and I’ll bet you didn’t either.  The person responsible for making the mule popular in America was none other than George Washington.  After the Revolution he put his mind to scientific farming.  He was especially interested in a breed of huge Catalonian donkeys in Spain.  Hearing of his interest, the king of Spain sent him two superb jacks (male donkeys) as a gift.  One died on the ship, but the other (Washington named him Royal Gift) survived to breed with many mares and sire a vast family of strapping mules.  Even today (this according to my father) the finest mules are bred by crossing these big Spanish jacks with Percheron mares.

Do you have any personal experience with mules?  Know any good mule stories?  Have a favorite movie mule?  I’d love to hear from you.

P.S.  Maybe I need to write a book called THE MULESKINNER’S BRIDE. 🙂

Tanya Hanson: Rockin’ Round the Tetons


Two weeks ago I and my hubby T.L., brother-in-law Timmy and sis Roberta (l-r in the pic above) had the experience of a lifetime, taking a wagon train around the Tetons with an amazing group, Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventures headed by wagonmaster Jeff Warburton out of Jackson, Wyoming. He’s a true cowboy and a gentleman and will be a guest here in Wildflower Junction in the near future.


We’re still in 7th Heaven about our adventure. To celebrate, I’ll send a pdf. copy of my fictional wagon train adventure Hearts Crossing Ranch to one commenter today after a name-draw. So come on down, ya hear?


Yep. We spent four days circling the Tetons through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest bordering Yellowstone bear country. We didn’t see any bear despite everybody’s secret longing.   Likely the thundering horses and our noisy group skeered ’em away.


 We got our start in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a bus-load full of cityslickers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois, us well as Bermuda, Japan, and Brighton, England!  There were about forty of us ranging in age from five to—eighty one! 

First stop on the bus taking us to the wagons were photo-ops of the Grand lady herself..followed by her neighbor Mount Moran reflected perfectly in a oxbow lake.


These scenes were practically perfection in itself..but all breath stopped when we reached The Wagons.

 After a delicious lunch—there’s nothing quite like chuck wagon cooking in the open mountain air—Jeff called, “let the wagons roll” and we were off to our camp for the night.


Pulling them were magnificent draft horses, Percherons and Belgians. They are named in teams, such as Lady and Tramp, Gun and Smoke, Sandy and Sage, Jack and Jill. The first name is always the horse on the left. These glorious beasts are capable of pulling up to 4,000 pounds as a team, and they love to work. In winter, they lead sleighs to the elk refuge outside Jackson.                                                              

While the wagons do have rubber tires and padded benches, the gravel roads are nothing like a modern freeway. As driver  Marisa told us the first day, I get paid extra to hit as many rocks and potholes as I can. Most times our route was called the “cowboy rollercoaster.” 


I’ll always hear Kathy (below on the right) saying, as she drove the wagons,  “Lady, Tramp, step up.” Jeff’s daughter Jessica is on the left. Jessica leads trail rides.


Jeff’s family owns and runs the business and the ranch, and his son Michael, with me below, is an important member of the crew.


Most of the other wranglers are college students who work the ten adventures run each summer.  Foreman Nathan and Camille got married last spring in a Western-themed wedding…Chuck cooks Celeste and Carrie kept us fed. Each adventure starts on a Monday and ends on Thursday, each new trip reversing the course. The crew members take turns two-by-two remaining with the horses for the weekend until the next adventure starts.

This week, sadly, is the last week for 2010. These young people are amazing, multi-talented, multi-taskers who knew each and everybody’s name within ten minutes.  The crew members typically work two or three summers before leaving for internships, graduation, or marriage.  Jeff himself was a a crew wrangler himself as a youngster, met wife Cindy here, and was able to purchase the ranch and the wagon train adventure business a few years later.                                                               


I think everybody’s favorite “crew member” was Buddy, probably the cutest dog ever. He accompanied every trail ride after following the draft horses from camp to camp…he romped in every stream and lake, caught mice, and totally stole everybody’s heart. BTW, he’s probably the first dog ever not to snarf down bacon. He loves the wagon adventures sooooo much that, Jeff says, Buddy’s pretty disgusted to become a backyard dog after the summertime.


Our tents were comfy—all sleeping essentials are provided–, and there was nothing so fine as a cup of Arbuckle’s to warm us up on a chilly evening.  After supper—cowboy potatoes, Indian frybread, and raspberry butter are among our favorites—we gathered around the campfire for Jeff’s tall tales, historical accounts of the Old West, guitar strumming, cowboy poetry and songs, S’mores,  and terrific skits the natures of which I can’t reveal. I don’t wanna spoil the surprise for those of you who might find yourself traveling along with Jeff and the crew in future.  Suffice it to say legends, history, drama, mountain men, melodrama and gunfire played enormous parts in the entertainment. Delish Dutch oven desserts such as peach cobbler and cherry chocolate cake were dished up each night and served to the ladies first.

One of the nicest parts of the meals was Jeff leading us in a blessing first. Nobody had to join in…but seems like everybody did.

Paper is burned in the campfire and only one Styrofoam cup is allotted per day, as everything brought in  the wilderness must be taken out.  We wrote our names on the cups and hung them between meals on a cup line.


                                                                                            I totally loved this paper napkin holder.


Everywhere surrounding us, the Wyoming landscape was full of lakes, greenery and blooming wildflowers.  Nights after the camp quieted down were almost beyond description: the stars are endless, multi-layered, sparkling on forever and ever amen. What a sight.                                                   

But the most fun of all was riding horses!  Folks either rode, hiked, or wagonned it to the next camp each day.   My favorite mount was Copper.


In camp, I threw hatchets, never once hitting my target, and roped Corndog., the pretend cow.  Now, even though the proof is on a video camera, I can’t show you today as we haven’t mastered lifting a “still” off of the video. Jeff taught me all about the “honda” and the “spoke” of a lariat, and I nailed Corndog on my third try. Honest.                              


(My kids were not as impressed when they realized I was afoot and not riding a bucking bronco while roping Corndog, but myself, I am mighty awed.)

Our last day, the Pony Express rode through camp and brought us all mail. 


Me and mine, well, we had the time of our life.  


As Jeff said when we left, “There’s always be a campfire burnin’ for ya here in Wyomin.”



Yep. I’m feeling the warmth right now.



A New Country, A New Breed: The Morgan

MarryingMinda Crop to UseWhen my editor e-mailed me last weekend that “you need a breed” for the stolen horses in my novella for next year’s Lawmen and Outlaws Christmas anthology, I realized anew that a horsewoman I am not.Morgan horse frolic

So I searched and snooped and came up with Morgans as well as lots of cool pictures. This historic American breed started up about the same time as the United States itself, when legendary stallion Figure was born in 1789 in southern New England. He is the origin of our country’s first breed of “light horse”.justin_morgan_sign

Although Figure was not as big as colonial workhorses nor as tall and long-legged as race horses, he consistently outperformed both. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs for settlers, and was also used as a saddle and driving horse. As his reputation swelled,  he had fun, too, winning races and pulling contests, and was a favorite mount at militia parades. He even carried President James Monroe on a muster-day parade.

All Morgans today trace back to Figure, the “foundation sire.” Since Figure was at one time owned by a man named Justin Morgan, the horse later came to be identified by that name. Subsequently, the entire breed as well. “Justin Morgan” became famed for his prepotency –the passing on all of his distinctive looks, conformation, temperament and athleticism no matter if the mare breeding with him was a large draft horse or an elegant racing type.


The “prince of steeds” died at the age of 32 from a kick in his flank by another horse. His offspring and descendents didn’t disappoint. Blessed with ground-covering gaits, Morgans covered many miles day after day at a steady rate of speed. They were dependable and determined to get the job done, making them a favorite horse in all lines of work. Earning a reputation as “horses of all work,” they were the preferred teams for stagecoach lines, for fieldwork on farms, and for transportation to town by the 1820’s. In the 1840’s, the breed’s trotting ability made it a favorite for harness racing, and its strength found Morgans headed for the California goldfields. Morgan horse 1888

Justin Morgan’s grandson, Black Hawk, and great grandson, Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan, dominated the sires by mid-century. Black Hawk, beloved for his speed and elegant style, sired a world champion trotter, and in the 1850’s, these two stallions charmed visitors to Midwestern state fairs and heightened the demand for Morgans in the west. They were taken to California as ranch horses and harness racers, and helped run the Pony Express.

Several units of cavalry in the Civil War were comprised of Morgans, including the Vermont Cavalry. U.S. General Philip Sheridan’s charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), a noble horse immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk. General Sheridan's ride







The only survivor of Custer’s regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn was his Morgan-mustang, Comanche.

Comanche, sole survivor

 Bred to be taller today, the Morgan’s deep body, lovely head, and straight-clean boned legs make still make it a hit from cowhands in Montana to show-rings and dressage. The Morgan is at home mounted by tourists on America’s trails and by-ways as well as mounted by police in the city. Its gentleness and soundness makes this horse beloved as a therapeutic riding horse for those with various disabilities. When you’re in Shelburne Vermont, you can visit the Morgan Museum.Morgan horse Museum Shelburne VT

How about you? Authors, what horses “ride” through your plots? Ever ridden a Morgan? Share your horse-tales today!

Morgan horse 1

Victoria Bylin: My New Neighbors

Vicki Logo“This house backs to a farm for retired thoroughbreds,” said our realtor.

My eyes popped wide. “Really?”

“Absolutely.” beloved-horses

Sure enough, if you walk up the incline and shove through some bushes, you can see horses in the distance.  I don’t want anyone to get confused.  This is a small tract house in a Lexington, Kentucky suburb. Our new yard is big enough for our dog and a barbecue, but it’s not nearly big enough for a horse.

Nonetheless, I can see horses in the distance. I don’t know which part of me was more excited: the little girl who grew up reading all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, or the western writer who instantly had visions of putting a horse race in her next book. Then again, it might have been the weary traveler–the woman who just moved her whole house into a Pod–who nearly melted with relief at the thought of having a real roof again.

house-outsideEither way, the writer in me got to thinking about horse races. It doesn’t take much for the set-up.  As long as there have been men and horses, racing has been part of our history. Records show both chariot races and mounted races in the Greek Olympics in 638 BC. Ancient Rome had its share of horseracing as well. The sport as we know it now got a boost in the 12th century when knights returned from the Crusades with Arabian stallions and bred them with English mares. Two-horse races–with bets riding on the winner–no doubt provided chills and thrills. house-with-me

That’s the kind of race I’ll use in that future book. Just two men (or maybe a woman) and two horses pitted against each other, maybe at a county fair or a Fourth of July celebration.


Those two-horse races eventually evolved into the “Sport of Kings” and horseracing as we know it today. It came to America with British settlers and first took root on Long Island around 1665. Not until the Civil War, though, did it become an organized sport. With that growth came gambling, and with gambling came a criminal element. 

horses-in-mistThe writer in me is seeing a plot-twist in the making. When I write the book with the horse race, there’s going to be more at stake than just the winner’s purse. Anyone else envisioning Snidley Whiplash in a shadowy corner? When the time comes, I’m going to have fun with this story!